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Revisiting the War of 1812

Massachusetts Historical Society commemorates war’s bicentennial

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On Christmas Eve 1814, John Quincy Adams wrote to his mother, Abigail, from Europe that a peace treaty had been signed to end the War of 1812. That letter, from Ghent, Belgium, where Adams led a team of U.S. negotiators seeking an end to the war with Britain, is one of many items on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society, which is commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812 with an exhibition running through September 8.

Mr. Madison’s War: The Controversial War of 1812 showcases a number of letters, broadsides, artifacts, and images from the society’s collections, including a midshipman’s log from the U.S.S. Constitution describing the ship’s actions early in the war, letters written by Adams while serving as the American minister to Russia, and a brass cannon captured from the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

gerrymander, Mr. Madison’s War: The Controversial War of 1812, Massachusetts MA Mass Historical Society.

The term “gerrymander” has its roots in the War of 1812, which divided the state along political lines and inspired cartoons such as this March 1812 one from the Boston Gazette, which is on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The War of 1812, which began in June of that year, was unpopular among many in Massachusetts, where Federalists collided with Jeffersonian Republicans. Seaports had suffered through a financially disastrous trade embargo during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, and now Republicans, under President James Madison, had started a war with Britain, which possessed the world’s most powerful navy. It was during the War of 1812 that Federalists coined the term “gerrymander” to describe the Republican attempt in Massachusetts to retain power through redistricting, a scheme they attributed to Republican Governor Elbridge Gerry. A related political cartoon depicting the salamander-shaped Essex County, which was at the heart of the gerrymandering debate, is featured in the exhibition.

The Massachusetts Historical Society, 1154 Boylston St., Boston, is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; 617-536-1608. The exhibition Mr. Madison’s War: The Controversial War of 1812 is free and open to the public through September 8. By public transportation, take an MBTA Green Line B, C, or D trolley to the Hynes Convention Center stop. More information can be found here.

1 Comments
Susan Seligson

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.

One Comment on Revisiting the War of 1812

  • Thanks on 08.08.2012 at 10:30 am

    Nice tip about the exhibit

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